A few years back, I came across the interesting observation — I think it was in an essay on Sophia Coppola — that most directors address only a single theme or question across all the movies they make in their careers, using each film to come closer to an answer they’ll be satisfied with. This observation almost certainly applies to Coppola’s oeuvre to date, which focuses on the lives of alienated young women, just as it applies, with somewhat less consistency, to the careers of directors like Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen. And while one might at first hesitate to place Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón in this category — his work, after all, includes a modernization of Dickens’ Great Expectations, a version of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess, and, of all things, a Harry Potter film — his two greatest films, Y Tu Mamá También and Children of Men, have enough thematic similarity to at least make the question worth raising.
As superhero movies go, The Dark Knight is certainly the best of the bunch — although why Christian Bale’s perfectly normal voice had to descend to a guttural rasp every time he put on his bat helmet escapes me, and one must also assign a few demerit points to the filmmakers for portraying the Russian national ballet as a group of blond and unfeasibly pneumatic ski bunnies. But it’s entertaining and occasionally thoughtful, which is more than one can normally ask of the genre.
The late Heath Ledger, as widely proclaimed, is indeed the best actor in the film. His portrayal of the Joker is far less cartoonish than Jack Nicholson’s own go at it, and Ledger takes the character seriously, giving him a consistency, a style, and a realism wholly absent before. Continue reading →
Alexandr Solzhenitsyn had a greater impact on the world than any other writer of the last century. You’d have to go back to the age of Victor Hugo or Harriet Beecher Stowe to find writers who shook history with a comparable force. He, more than anyone else, made the hidden history of the gulag public knowledge and through the remarkable force of his intransigent resistance sparked a moral revolution that led to the end of Soviet communism. As Mikhail Gorbachev rightly observed, Solzhenitsyn “changed the consciousness of millions of people, forcing them to think about past and present in a different way.”
It used to be said by security analysts, back in the days of the Cold War, that the Soviet Union, though benighted in so many other ways, managed to maintain a highly sophisticated and realistic view of the balance of power across the various geographies over which it was in contention with the United States. The Soviets looked at something they termed the “correlation of forces”, which was comprised of all things that determined relative power: public opinion, political allegiance, economic prosperity, class struggle, and military might. This holistic concept the analysts contrasted unfavourably with what they saw as a Western view too focused on counting tanks; if you wanted to get the full picture of what was going on in a country, in other words, it was often most useful to look at things through Soviet lenses.
In a not-so-strange parallel, it appears that John Bolton — the recess-appointed former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and permanent advocate of missileboat diplomacy — has emerged as a similarly accurate lens on the true direction of U.S. foreign policy. Continue reading →
Rodolphe Töpffer’s work as reprinted by University Press of Mississippi.
Scholarship often flourishes unexpected and of the way places, tucked in the corner of remote cities and universities. For some reason, St. Louis was the site of the Thomist renaissance and contemporary Hegelian thought has made a home for itself in Halifax, Nova Scotia. During the 1960s San Diego was an unlikely hotbed for Western Marxism (housing as it did Jean Baudrillard, Manfredo Tafuri, and Fredric Jameson, with Herbert Marcuse not too far away).
When the history of comics studies is written great attention will be given to the work of a few editors in Jackson, Mississippi. That’s the hometown of the University Press of Mississippi (UPM), which has been at forefront of publishing scholarly books about comics for nearly two decades. Prior to the 1990s, comics studies as such did not exist, instead there was a scattered and diffuse collection of books published here and there in many different disciplines (art history, media studies, and psychology). The achievement of UPM is not jus that they’ve published many books on comics but that the these books, taken together, have given comics studies a critical mass so that it now forms a coherent discipline, one where scholars can refer to a common set of debates and ideas. (I should add that I’m hardly an unbiased observer here since I’ve co-edited, with Kent Worcester, two books with UPM: Arguing Comics: Literary Masters on a Popular Medium and the forthcoming Comics Studies Reader).